William Martin “Billy” Joel has sold more albums in the U.S. than any pop/rock singer except for Elvis Presley. Superstar musicians in that rarified league ( and many more only pretenders to it ) always surround themselves with gaggles of managers, “minders”, assistants, agents, and promoters , and the size of the entourage doubles when they’re on tour. So imagine my surprise when Billy Joel arrived for our scheduled interview at my Orlando hotel room door at the decidedly unhip hour of 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning – completely alone. Billy had played to a sold-out audience of 15,000 only 12 hours earlier, but now here he stood before me without security guard or tour manager, dressed in an old navy-blue t-shirt, matching shorts, and well-worn canvas deck shoes, just another schlep tourist whose kid wanted to meet a real celebrity. Like Mickey Mouse, for instance.
What ensued was a delightful conversation by two guys who had never met, from different parts of America, just shooting the breeze about mutual loves. Sure, we talked rock’n’roll, from Billy seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show to British Invasion bands that followed, garage rock, and the New York City punk scene that influencedhis approach after the1978 52nd Street album. But we also talked at length about baseball (he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they moved to L.A. in 1958, when he switched to the Yankees); Harley Davidson Cafe Sportsters ; the motorcycle accident which almost cost him his hands, his career, and his life ; and the break-up of his marriage to his former manager even while her brother managed Joel’s career amidst claims of impropriety.
To mark its 35th anniversary, find out why 52nd Street , containing “Big Shot”, “My Life”, “Stiletto”,”Honesty”,”Half a Mile Away”, and “Until the Night” sold over 7 million copies, stayed at #1 for eight consecutive weeks, and won Billy a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. -Redbeard